The H.E.A.T. Exchange

Free thoughts from the mind of the Anomalous One

Tag: W3C

The W3C: A Consortium of Sluggish Defenders

Recently, I was told that the W3C is nothing but a collection of companies (Google being mentioned specifically).  This came from a gentleman belonging to an accessibility consultant group that has amongst its members a few individuals who have contributed to W3C’s specifications.

The W3C is not an abstraction of the web.  The W3C is simply a collection of individuals…real people.  Some of these individuals represent companies, corporations, and small businesses.  Some may just be experts in a field of interest important to the overall development of the web.

Most of these individuals are sluggish defenders.

What is a sluggish defender?

Sluggish defenders have been around for ages.  You know who they are, but may have referred to them by different labels.

Sluggish defenders are the folks who will celebrate and support a person or idea when things are going well, but cower in silence when faced with adversaries or opposing views.

Are you familiar with the phrase fair-weather friend?

Wait.  This sounds like something from my high school days?

Exactly.  Sluggish defenders tend to follow the popular crowd even when they know it is wrong.  Wanting to be part of the in-the-know-and-hanging-around-the-water-cooler crowd is very important to a sluggish defender.

They will invest time and effort into a product (for whatever reasons) and promote the product initially with pride and joy.  When enough opponents of the product voice their discontent, the sluggish defender will turn tail and run, often denigrating his own product in the process.

I have witnessed this from people involved in the development of RDFa and JSON-LD. (No need for names because particular individuals are not the point of this post).  I have read comments from folks involved in creating XHTML 1.1 and XML 1.1 turning against their own product when encountering others with differing views.

Ok, so they changed their minds and switched sides. No big deal.

Here is the problem.  A sluggish defender has the effect of making pure gold appear as aluminum foil.  Often, sluggish defenders are attacked not with valid arguments or actual corrections, but en masse by those who simply are hanging with the cool guys.

Fear of losing the status of subject-matter expert is what actually motivates the sluggish defender to switch his stance; not intellectual awareness.

At this point, the sluggish defender, as a representative of his own work, has rendered his product ineffective and invalid.  By choosing to remain silent, or cowering in the midst of opponents to gain popularity, the sluggish defender has defeated his own product before it could even make it out the gates.

Don’t believe me?

I challenge you to take a look at the names on specifications coming out of the W3C’s camp.  Then visit the personal pages of some of the editors and contributors.  Observe how some of them will make mention of their contributions to the W3C, especially if they had some direct input into a specification.  Particularly, look at some of the more controversial recommendations (for example, XML, XHTML, RDF, ARIA, and the like).

Visit the forums these contributors frequent and observe their riding-the-fence approach when addressing opposition (Google Plus is one good place to start).

So, what is the W3C?

In theory, the W3C is a collection of subject-matter experts: highly knowledgeable in their related fields, highly professional in their approach to web development, and non-political when it comes to moving the web forward.

In actuality, the W3C is a collection of sluggish defenders: experts at clever witticism, highly knowledgeable of another person’s shortcomings, very unprofessional in their approach to collaboration, and too political to actually get anything done.

Each sluggish defender represents the W3C as a real, physical entity.  Each person who has contributed to and exploited the resources of the W3C represents that brand.

If the W3C was run by Sun Tzu, the web would be decades ahead of schedule.


Sidebar: What’s the Point?

I prefer to code with markup to the strictest of the rules.

XML and XHTML 1.1 are my markup languages of choice because of their well-formedness constraints and strict rules.

I understand HTML5 is the new kid on the block, but HTML5 (to me) is nothing more than HTML 4.01 with a boob job. Repurposing the B and I tags using long-winded phrases from academia is as fake as Joan Rivers’ looks.

ARIA 1.0 has been in development for many years. ARIA supplies attributes to help assistive technologies (AT) better understand the web author’s intent in markup.

ARIA is supposed to make visible to AT those parts of a web document previously invisible.

I would say read the ARIA 1.0 recommendation to learn more about the attributes and their purpose from the people who know, but this is the problem. This is the reason for my frustration.

ARIA 1.0 is BULLSHIT! Plain and simple.

After all these years, the ARIA 1.0 specification reached recommendation status. Inside the spec, the recommendation is still referred to as a draft (take a quick look at chapter 1).

Chapter 10 mentions an XHTML + ARIA DTD and states that documents can be validated using that DTD. Nowhere else in the spec does it say otherwise.

The W3C validators do not recognize XHTML + ARIA. Let me put this in perspective.

In the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, under Success Criteria 4.1.1, two of the sufficient techniques provided by the W3C are G134 (Validating web pages) and G192 (Fully conforming to specifications).

Simply put, if I were to add ARIA attributes to an XHTML 1.1 document that previously met single A conformance, it would now fail miserably.

In other words, using a specification from the W3C with one of its own host languages will cause my XHTML 1.1 documents to fail WCAG 2.0 single A conformance.

Why? Because XHTML 1.1 + ARIA 1.0 will not validate and, based on some feedback that supposedly is from a reliable source, it will never be made to validate.

On the surface, this is no big deal.

The problem is that no word was put out from the W3C, especially to all those using XHTML Family of markup, that ARIA 1.0 will not apply to the host language (XHTML).

This is like the store manager looking at a long line of customers waiting 10 days for the new video console and finally decides to open the store and say, “We will sell only to those driving a Ferrari.”

“Hey! Did you not see us waiting for this?!”

Specifications are supposed to specify, in detail, the technology…period. No inferences need to be made by the reader. The detail is in the specification and, though boring, explicit in nature.

A specification should not waste anyone’s time mentioning things that are extraneous or irrelevant. Specify and be specific!

The esoteric nature of the recommendations that come out of the W3C is bad enough. As much as their own WCAG 2.0 asks developers to acknowledge those with cognitive shortcomings, recommendations seem to fail in this miserably.

Still, with the aristocracy of the W3C editing the specs, I sometimes can hear their voices saying, “These recommendations are really not for the hoi polloi, but provided to you as a generous gift from on high.”


If the W3C wants the web to move forward, then making sure those in the trenches bringing folks to the web with their great designs and applications understand both the intent and practice of their (W3C) technologies.

A specification that cannot be relied on is not a specification, but a fairytale.

I prefer XML 1.1, XHTML 1.1, RDF 1.1, and RDFa 1.1. I am still reluctant to actually use RDF or RDFa (I don’t really want to make it easier for the NSA to find information).

After waiting all these years for ARIA 1.0 and realizing its unfulfilled promise, I am left with only one question:

What’s the point?